development economics | Playing for sustainability: how games can transform the world

Playing for sustainability: how games can transform the world

Angga D. Martha April 17, 2017 4:06 AM (UTC+8)
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The year 2015 was critical for broad social and environmental development in the world. Governments that year defined a new set of international goals — set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — that would continue the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed to by 189 countries at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000.

The MDGs established eight globally agreed upon goals in poverty alleviation, education, gender equality and empowerment of women, child and maternal health, environmental sustainability, reducing HIV/Aids and communicable diseases, and building a global partnership for development.

About 1 billion people around the world still live in poverty, more than 800 million people are under-nourished, women are fighting for their rights, and millions of women die in childbirth. To address these and other issues, the UN established a sustainable development agenda to replace the MDGs.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are universal targets that UN member states will be expected to use in their political strategies during the next 15 years. The new SDGs aim to stimulate action on five key themes: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. This incorporates two new items — peace and partnership — which were not mentioned in the earlier MDGs. The agenda will provide an opportunity to work more on harmonization and the incorporation of peace-building into development.

The ambition and the complexity of development challenges and a clear mechanism for a development agency in contributing to SDGs are vital to its implementation. The international community needs to agree on major elements to achieve the goals, one of which is technology.

The technological opportunities for SDGs

Technology has shaped society, economics, and development. Experts have argued that technology is a double-edged sword — it can be a source of conflict as well as a tool for social inclusion and cooperation. When used effectively, technology can be mobilized to identify barriers and provide solutions for sustainable development challenges locally and globally.

The SDGs recognize that technology is a key “means of implementation” in achieving different goals. These include a call to strengthen innovation to accelerate technological progress for development, the need to facilitate experiments of new SDG-related technologies in specific communities and the call to strengthen science, technology, and innovation literacy and programs.

It is important to note that in many developing countries, technology already exists. The distribution and implementation of these technologies are lagging due to technical, economic, institutional, legal and behavioral barriers. It’s important to engage different stakeholders and encourage collaboration among them. Technological innovation is also needed to create an environment for the implementation of SDGs. Such innovation can be in the form of games which can attract different stakeholders in a unique way.

Engaging different stakeholders, including young people, is key for mainstreaming SDGs. Young people play a leading role in the development and use of new technology and have been trailblazers in the creation of technological and media solutions to some of our most pressing developmental challenges. They are creative, technologically adept, and informed about local community needs. Given this age group’s interests in learning and sharing using technology, games could generate interest and spread awareness of SDGs.

For example, Niantic and Pokemon Company International created special Pokemon Go! locations during the World Economic Forum in Davos to remind attendees of the importance of fighting poverty. The companies partnered with Project Everyone to raise awareness of the SDGs by creating one new PokeStop for each of the 17 goals. Additionally, in-game content was also available for Pokemon Go! users to promote the importance of SDGs.

Young gamers assume problem-solving roles

World Rescue, a mobile-based video game inspired by the SDGs and launched by Unesco Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, takes players to Kenya, Norway, Brazil, India, and China where they assume the roles of five young heroes to solve global problems — such as displacement, disease, deforestation, drought, and pollution.

These games allow users to learn and practice sustainability in a gaming environment. Games also provide a platform for making mistakes while still having fun and learning at the same time.

It is important to note that while technology creates solutions to many development problems, it also poses new challenges, such as unequal or limited access to technology, especially the poor.

To reap the full benefits of technologies, it is also important to understand the social, cultural, political, regulatory, environmental, and economic factors that influence access to technologies. The use of technology for SDGs should also go in hand with other development programs and priorities, such as education and healthcare.

Finding a balance between the validation and introduction of technologies that help improve society will require a deeper understanding of how to project the social, economic, and environmental impact of innovation.

Angga D. Martha
Angga D. Martha is a final year M.A. student at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, focusing on Human Security, Sustainable Development, and International Negotiation and Conflict Resolutions. He is also the Global Focal Point on Oceans/SDG 14 at the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth, and a Youth Action Team at CIVICUS. He holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Indonesia, focusing on Youth Policy in Southeast Asia. He can be reached at anggadm@icloud.com
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